#60: Quaking Aspen

Bird number: 92
Date: August 15, 2012
Wood: Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
Source: Fellow carver

Sitting down to carve this bird with a knife brought back a lot of memories of sitting around the camp fire at San Isabel Scout Ranch, whittling on a piece of aspen. The woods there were filled with two kinds of trees: pine and aspen. It seemed like the pine was always either too full of pitch and messy, or it was dry and hard as a rock. But the aspen limbs were always soft and easy to carve. I didn’t make anything particularly noteworthy back then, but I had fun making a pile of shavings while turning a small branch into a smaller stick.

Aspen is soft, typically straight-grained, and very easy to carve with a knife. It has a distinctive odor that I find pleasant, but perhaps that’s because it brings back so many memories. I know that some people find the smell slightly unpleasant. The wood doesn’t hold fine detail like basswood does, but it’s adequate for my stylized birds and for many other types of carving. One member of the local woodcarving club carves exquisite faces from aspen.

Of course, this piece came from a log that was a bit larger than what I used to whittle on. The log was about four inches in diameter, and long enough to get three bird cutouts. I selected this one specifically for the knot in the back.

The knot was difficult to carve due to the grain change, but it adds some interesting character to the figure.

If you live where Aspen is plentiful, there’s no real reason to buy basswood unless you’re doing very fine detail. Aspen is light, softer than basswood, and carves very well. I really enjoyed carving this bird and look forward to getting hold of more aspen at some point.